Formed in 2005, Japanese cyber-metal trio Baal have experienced a major boost in popularity recently – especially after gaining the favor of cEvin Key, one half of legendary electronic music duo Skinny Puppy, who helped introduce the band to North America last Summer. Skinny Puppy then tapped Baal to join them on tour, and the band subsequently signed with the same label, Metropolis Records, who recently released their first full-length album Shurado. That title translates as “Scene of Carnage,” which for me is a perfect description for the twisted sonic mayhem this talented team has unleashed on the world.
The team of Mikito (guitars & programming), U-Tarou (vocals) and Alan (drums) revealed their unique approach to the genre with the EPs Remanufacture and Fear is the Mindkiller, in which they elude the standard club-friendly EBM/electro beats in favor of a coarse and unpredictable approach. Weaving U-Tarou's hostile, thrash/hardcore vocals into a simple, unvarnished framework of gritty electro rhythm patterns and thick, chugging guitar riffs in the mode of Rammstein or Die Krupps, the material doesn't really escape the industrial formula, but instead manages to tear it up from the inside out.
To my ears, two things immediately distinguish Baal from the familiar conventions of current-day industrial metal: the scope of the production, which expands the trio's sound to massive proportions; and the flat-out insanity of U-Tarou's muscular vocals. The opening cut “Purge” blasts apocalyptic air-raid sirens behind an assault of dirty beats and Fear Factory-style riffs, with U-Tarou adopting more of a vintage thrash/hardcore vocal style, but it's with the follow-up “Brush Aside Your Way” that the team find their stride, picking up the tempo, rolling the riffs and bouncy electronics together into a murky but insistently throbbing pulse, while layering the vocals in a hardcore talk-back style.
There's a distinct nod to the German “dance-metal” genre in tracks like “Dead Sector,” which blends sung and shouted melodic vocals with a blistering blend of speedy, rolling riffs and buzzing beats. The guitars really get to dominate the mix in tracks like “Evil Collector” and the massive “Outrage,” but it's the appropriately titled “Schizoid,” which allows each band member to shine – particularly Alan, whose wild drumming is really off the chain here. Dark ambient elements come into play in the album's second half, including the ultra-violent “Iron Age” and the intensely dark “Inhuman Dimension,” which demonstrate how effectively the band can summon a pure horror vibe, and the urgent, Slipknot-like “Genocide” closes on an epic note with the record's mightiest riffs, set against a grid of chattering electro beats.
In a genre saturated with familiar and repetitive cycles, Baal manage to distinguish themselves with a crazed over-the-top presentation and showmanship, including vocal performances that are both unique and aggressive. Shurado is far more suited to the moshpit than the dance floor (which North American crowds are undoubtedly discovering right now), and while the material doesn't have nearly much variation from track to track as I would have liked, there are still some strong repeaters here that mark Baal as a band with solid industrial potential.